How Open Labour is pushing for a New Democracy

Caroline Osborne and Maria Iacovou write about the key role of Open Labour within the Labour for a New Democracy (L4ND) coalition. Delegates to annual conference can attend L4ND’s delegates briefing on 15th September.

One of the biggest debates at this year’s Labour conference is set to be over Proportional Representation.  Constituency Labour Parties up and down the UK have been debating, voting for, and prioritising motions calling for the party to back electoral reform – and delegates are getting organised ahead of what could prove to be a crunch vote in Brighton.

This is all the culmination of over a year of campaigning, with Open Labour at its heart. As a part of the Labour for a New Democracy coalition, launched twelve months ago, Open Labour is working with ten other organisations committed to winning a Labour commitment to PR. From Labour Campaign to Electoral Reform and Compass, to Make Votes Matter and the Electoral Reform Society, to Chartist magazine – these groups have been collaborating to raise the profile of this debate.

This approach is paying off. This time last year, just over one in ten Constituency Labour Parties had policy in favour of electoral reform. Today, that figure has soared to over 45% of all CLPs. Members all over the UK have been tabling motions, leading debates and, overwhelmingly, winning the arguments. Some 97% of CLPs that debated a motion on PR went on to pass it.

This is campaigning on an almost industrial scale – but these debates in CLPs aren’t just statistics. Every one of them has been a genuine conversation about the problems with our politics and how to begin to solve them. As much as anything else, Labour for a New Democracy has been a huge programme of political education. We don’t think anyone has come away from the campaign without learning something new about the impact of electoral systems on the fundamental political issues we are all driven by.

Nowhere has this been more obvious than during the summer ‘Roadshow’. This series of twelve events, running from May to July, saw compelling arguments for electoral reform which go well beyond simple fairness. For me, the Roadshow set out clearly what many of us have intuitively understood for years: that to build an equal society you first need an equal democracy.

In a session called “Levelling the Playing Field”, Professors Jonathan Rodden (Stanford University) and Rob Ford (University of Manchester) explained how FPTP skews elections in favour of rightwing parties around the world – and why it now disadvantages Labour in the UK perhaps more than ever before.

In “Defeating Right Wing Populism”, Billy Bragg, LCER’s Maria Iacovou, and MPs Rachael Maskell and Stephen Kinnock set out why FPTP is no defence against right-wing extremism. Instead of keeping UKIP and the Brexit Party out of politics, our system has allowed them to get their policies and values adopted by a majority government.

And when it comes to the most serious threat facing the world right now – climate change – we heard from Salomon Orellana (University of Michigan) about the global evidence that proportional democracies have outperformed those with FPTP. He showed how countries like New Zealand, after adopting PR, were able to sustain much more complex, nuanced and long-term political debates that enabled them to act faster in the face of the climate crisis and other emerging dangers.

These are just a few of the fascinating discussions that took place during the Roadshow – let alone all the CLP debates which have been unfolding around the country. Whether you back PR because it’s fair, because it leads to better political outcomes, or both; there’s a palpable sense that the debate on this issue has deepened and strengthened over the last twelve months.

Now it remains to bring that debate to Labour conference. We have the best opportunity in decades to bring the whole Labour party along with us on electoral reform – and we head towards Brighton with the momentum behind us. Now, we need to get organised. If you’re attending conference as a delegate, please come along to our delegate briefing, held via Zoom on 15th September. And if you’re coming to Brighton as a conference visitor, you can sign up to volunteer with the L4ND campaign.

Caroline Osborne is a member of the Labour for a New Democracy team. She is a 2021 conference delegate for Gosport CLP. Maria Iacovou is an executive member of Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, and is conference delegate for Harwich and North Essex CLP.

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